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The Atlanta Braves begin the rest of their season without All-Star right fielder Ronald Acuna Jr. when they play the host Miami Marlins on Sunday.

Acuna tore his right ACL in the bottom of the fifth inning of Saturday’s win and will have season-ending surgery. Acuna, 23, is expected to miss 9-10 months, according to ESPN.

“It’s a tough break for our team and for him,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said.

The Acuna injury is unfortunately fitting for the Braves, who have won three straight National League East crowns but haven’t had the type of first half to the 2021 season that they were expecting.

That’s why their goal for the game on Sunday — aside from avoiding more injuries — is quite simple.

“Going into the (All-Star) break, we’re trying to finish strong,” Braves third baseman Austin Riley said. “(The first half) has been a grind for sure.”

Sunday’s pitching matchup will feature a pair of right-handers: Miami’s Pablo Lopez (4-5, 2.94 ERA) and Atlanta’s Ian Anderson (5-4, 3.27 ERA).

Lopez, who is on track for a career-best ERA, is 0-2 with a 14.14 ERA in three starts against the Braves this season. In 11 career starts versus Atlanta, Lopez is 2-6 with a 5.85 ERA.

His most recent start against the Braves, on July 2, was infamous as he threw one pitch, hitting Acuna, before he was ejected.

The Marlins hit Acuna again this past Friday, although it was a breaking ball. The hit-by-pitch led to an angry response from Acuna, something Marlins manager Don Mattingly appeared to refer to as “drama.”

“I’m tired of talking about it,” Mattingly said of the Acuna hit-by-pitch storyline. “Anyone who has played the game knows (Friday’s hit-by-pitch by Anthony Bender) wasn’t intentional. I’ve really grown tired of the drama.”

The Marlins are 9-9 when Lopez starts, and the Braves — quite similarly — are 9-8 when Anderson is on the mound this season.

Anderson has eight quality starts this year, but he didn’t fare as well against the Marlins. In his only start against Miami this year, Anderson lasted just five innings, allowing three runs on six hits and four walks.

In three career starts against the Marlins, Anderson is 0-1 with a 2.63 ERA. He has yet to pitch in Miami, however.

Meanwhile, the Marlins, who are in last place in the NL East, have had a wild week. They started the week by beating the reigning World Series champion Los Angeles Dodgers in three straight games.

Since then, the Marlins have lost three straight — and it’s that inconsistency that has been maddening.

If nothing else, though, the Marlins have been feisty. Speedy Jazz Chisholm hit an inside-the-park homer on Saturday — the play Acuna was hurt on. It was Miami’s first inside-the-park homer since JT Riddle hit one in 2018.

Chisholm, who capped his homer by diving head-first into home plate, said he hopes Acuna returns to health.

“The baseball world will miss him if he is out a long time,” Chisholm said. “Hopefully he gets better.”

–Field Level Media